Gray Refutes Sulaimon Brown's Allegations
James Wright | 3/10/2011, 12:16 a.m.
The mayor of the District of Columbia has come under fire for problems in the hiring of a city employee with a checkered past.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has had to answer questions from the media and some members of the political community for his role in the termination of former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown as a special assistant to the D.C. Department of Health Care Finance. Gray, 68, has said that he has done nothing wrong but has promised to clean up the hiring process of District employees who answer to him.
"While a vetting process was implemented, it was clear that the approach was not thorough enough to address all relevant issues and questions for Excepted Service appointments," Gray said.
"Moving forward, I want to make sure that we check and double-check all current and future Excepted Service appointees by also engaging our own Metropolitan Police Department."
On Sun., March 6, Gray announced the resignation of Talib Karim as the chief of staff to the director at the Department of Health Care Finance. Karim, who would have made $133,000 a year, had been cited by the Washington City Paper for a protective order requested by his ex-wife and a tax lien.
The mayor's action is unprecedented in that it's the first time in the history of the District that political appointees will be subject to background checks by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.
The issue of Gray's appointments came up when Brown, who was set to make $110,000 a year, was discovered to have had a restraining order against him for stalking a 13-year-old girl. There were other issues in Brown's past, such as 1991 gun charge that was first reported by the Washington City Paper.
Brown, 40, revealed in the March 6 edition of the Washington Post that he had text messages and e-mails from Gray, campaign chairwoman Lorraine Green and campaign consultant Howard Brooks regarding his role as an unofficial surrogate of Gray's during the mayoral primary season in 2010, payment for supporting Gray at candidate forums and his unofficial promise of a job by Gray if he won the election.
Gray, Green and Brooks dispute Brown's claims and Green is seeking legal action against the unsuccessful mayoral contender.
Gray said that his appointees went through an "extensive transition background check that included personal, civil and criminal background checks."
"The checks consisted of credit history, criminal offenses, driving and traffic records, bankruptcies, property ownership, liens and judgments," Gray said.
"It also covered education, legal and business affiliations. These checks were performed by an outside entity and paid for by private donations."
The mayor said that in moving quickly to fill positions below the top level, there was not the same level of scrutiny as there was with the cabinet posts. He said that in some cases, assumptions were made that because an individual had worked in a previous administration or was a government employee, background checks were not needed.
Gray said that changes will be made. All appointees will be vetted with the same level of scrutiny, he said.
"While it is hoped that candidates for jobs such as these would voluntarily reveal significant aspects of their history that could influence the decision to hire them, clearly that has not always occurred," the mayor said.
Gray has requested that D.C. Attorney General Nathan Irvin investigate the matter and has also requested that the D.C. Council hold a hearing. D.C. Council
Chairman Kwame Brown, a political ally of the mayor's, decided to take another route.
"I have known Mayor Gray for many years and have always found him to be a dedicated public servant and a person of integrity," Kwame Brown, 40, said.
"I know he would agree with me that it is of the utmost importance that the truth of what happened comes out -- no matter what it may reveal. I have spoken with
several council members and they are concerned about this matter."
Kwame Brown said that Sulaimon Brown's allegations are "only allegations at this point."
"However, they deserve an independent review and therefore I am referring the matter to the Office of the Inspector General," he said.
Joshua Lopez, a candidate for the at-large council seat in April and an ally of former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who lost the 2010 Democratic Party primary to Gray, said that he is outraged at what is going on in the Gray administration.
"You look at what he is paying his top deputy mayors and the children of people who have top jobs in his administration and you have to be concerned," Lopez, 27, said.
"I am not surprised this is happening because Gray ran a very divisive campaign with questionable alliances."
Howard University political scientist J. Wilmer Leon III said that it's too early to assess whether this will impair Gray's ability to lead the city.
"He is not starting off on the best foot possible," Leon, 51, said. "The jury is still out but he does not have much rope."
Leon said that there is some frustration with Gray in hiring people at such a high pay scale in government, but he understands why the mayor did it.
"The mayor's logic is to get the best people and to do that you have to pay the going rate," he said.
"However, there are some incredibly competent people in the District who would gladly take positions at the rate that those jobs were being paid previously."
There has been talk that Gray's troubles may see the return of Fenty to politics. While political activists such as Lopez find that prospect inviting, Leon does not.
"This is not the return of Adrian Fenty," Leon said.
"A lot of people liked what Adrian Fenty was doing but did not like him. Fenty is a nasty guy and will never be elected again to public office in the District of Columbia." WI